Ethics of wildlife photography

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Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

Ever wondered how some photographers get such astonishing close-ups or action shots of wildlife? Sadly, it’s not all T&T (Talent and Technology), where photographers want their images to educate viewers about protection of wildlife and their habitats.
 Examples of unethical behaviour

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

Ever wondered how some photographers get such astonishing close-ups or action shots of wildlife? Sadly, it’s not all T&T (Talent and Technology), where photographers want their images to educate viewers about protection of wildlife and their habitats.
 Examples of unethical behaviour
Getting an amazing shot can also be due to unethical practices, where animals are stressed while photographers have staged their shots. These and other “techniques” are unethical:
•    Gardening: removing leaves and branches surrounding bird nests, or animal dens for example, so close-ups are possible, sometimes with invasive flash photography.
•    Baiting predators: photographers purchase “bait” (live mice, chicks), then release or throw them at owls, foxes, etc. to capture a pounce/hunting shot.
•    Startling: throwing objects at an animal to get a “surprised” photo.
 Ethical photographers abound
Of course, there are many responsible photographers in our region. Meet Nina Stavlund and her husband Tony Beck, two photographers with a passion for wildlife. They lead bird-watching and nature tours with their company Always an Adventure, and teach nature photography. I asked them to comment on best wildlife photography practices.
What is the big problem with baiting, or with “re-arranging” a nest site?
They said, “Baiting predators can cause them to habituate, that is, lose fear of human beings and associate us with food. Fearless predators don’t mix well in human environments. Disturbing sensitive nesting or feeding areas will leave a scent, or expose the site, inadvertently alerting scavengers and predators to prey on the wildlife subject.
Is feeding (and photographing) birds at feeding stations the same thing as baiting animals?
Stavlund explains, “No. Baiting teaches a predator that the baiter is the food source. However, feeding stations can act like a natural food source. It’s important to set up a safe and secure feeding station with priority always going to wildlife before curious humans.”
Is there a problem with calling birds in for viewing or photography (or using bird apps where their calls might bring in other species)?
Beck said, “Yes. Recordings can easily be abused. Repeating a recording two or three times might have a minimum impact. However, more than this can confuse an animal, or cause it to use a lot of energy. During the breeding
season, there is potential for territories to be abandoned from overuse of playback.”
What are your top 3 best practices for wildlife photographers?
They replied, “Learn as much as you can about and be sensitive with your subject. Look for signs of stress. Animals, not the photographer, should always have the priority. Be patient. Take your time. Realize that photos will eventually happen once the animal accepts your presence. The key is getting close enough for a photo without having an impact. If an animal is uncooperative, just move on to another more cooperative subject. There’s plenty out there. A good photographer knows how to find them without cheating.”
Is there legal protection against baiting?
No. Neither Stavlund or Beck were sure about Quebec laws regarding what we should do if we witness baiting or other unethical activities. With the help of local birder Deborah Powell and others, I spoke with Alain Clavet, Conservation Officer with Québec’s Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP). He told me Quebec has no protection against these activities. 
Clavet did, however, remind me about the federal Migratory Bird Act which fines people if they are caught damaging migratory birds’ nests or stealing eggs.
Local clubs help with ethics
Ottawa Field Naturalist Club publishes a Code of Conduct (http://bit.ly/2kxkjU5). Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club hopes to publish some before long, and Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais’ code is published at http://bit.ly/2kolTZh. All clubs welcome members and all offer outings, and some offer talks. Join and learn!
 Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, columnist, author and visual artist. Contact her at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com